Pte Albert Edward Croucher (1889 – 1915)

As a private serving in the Regular Army in August 1914, Albert Croucher was among the first of the local Platt men sent to France during the early stages of the war. He arrived on the battlefield at a point when mobile warfare had ground to a halt and was fast becoming what we now refer to as trench warfare. Although working in a supportive role, Albert’s position within battalion transport was far from safe, and he experienced the full fury of enemy fire on several occasions during the short time he was at the front. Having been wounded precisely a month after disembarking in St. Nazaire, the final weeks of Albert’s life must have been excruciatingly painful, and following his death back in England, he received a full military funeral in Platt.

Albert Edward Croucher was born on 24 November 1889 in the parish of Petham, about five miles south of Canterbury and was christened in Petham Church of All Saints several months later on 9 March 1890. He was the second of three children of a gardener named William James Croucher and his wife, Mary Ann (nee Sharpe.) In the 1891 census, when Albert was one, he was enumerated with his family as living near Petham village at Garlinge Green; however, on 4 May 1898, Albert and his older brother William, started at Frittenden Primary School, having transferred from Kingsdown School in Deal. Just over five months later, the boys moved again. By 1901, their father had taken up the position of head gardener at Ulcombe Place near Maidstone, and the family was living in the gardener’s cottage on the grounds.

Based on his service number, Albert likely visited the Army recruiting office in Canterbury on 14 January 1908. Regrettably, his military papers have not survived; however, he enlisted with the 1st Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and probably joined his unit at the regimental camp near Dover shortly after signing up.

In 1910, the battalion moved to Ireland, where Albert was enumerated in the 1911 census at the barracks in Dublin and sent with his unit to Fermoy in County Cork two years later, where the Buffs remained until the start of the war. His family had also been on the move and left Ulcombe for Allington, where William worked as a farm bailiff before settling at Paxton Cottage near Crouch by the start of the war.

At 6:00 p.m. on 4 August 1914, The Buffs received orders from the 16th Infantry Brigade to commence mobilisation, which was completed in an astonishing four days. Additionally, and as a precautionary measure, a detachment from the battalion was temporarily sent to army fortifications at Bere Island. Albert may have been among this cohort, but ten days later, on 14 August, the entire battalion left Fermoy and was entrained for Queenstown, where they boarded the SS Duke of Cumberland for Holyhead. On arrival, Albert and his comrades boarded another train for Cambridge and billeted on university grounds while they awaited orders to proceed to France.

Albert eventually left Southampton on board the S.S. Minneapolis at noon on 8 September and arrived in St. Nazaire at 9:00 a.m. the following day. The battalion was immediately sent to aid the BEF (British Expeditionary Force), who were in full retreat from the fierce fighting at Mons. On the night of the 20th, it met them at Courcelles and took over a position in the trenches north of Vailly the following day. Several hours after arrival at 8 p.m., the Buffs engaged the enemy for the first time when the Germans carried out a sustained attack on the battalion position for over two hours. The men fought valiantly and dug in, holding the line until they were relieved three weeks later.

As a mounted private, Albert’s role within the battalion was likely to have been part of the transport section, perhaps as an assistant to a driver or one of the NCOs. Within days of arrival at the front, he reputedly had his horse shot out from under him on two occasions – an occurrence that would happen for a third time on 9 October while based near the church in Vailly.

On this particular day, an enemy infantry and artillery barrage began at about 10:00 a.m. Half an hour into the attack, the battalion War Diary records that three transport men were wounded and ten horses killed. Albert was likely one of the three and reputedly found himself trapped under his dead mount for over four hours before being extricated from the battlefield and evacuated back to England, where he received treatment at the Connaught Hospital in Aldershot. Probably the result of having been crushed by the weight of the horse, his legs were so severely damaged that it was necessary to amputate them both. Tragically, on 8 January 1915, he died during the operation. Before Albert’s death, his father was able to visit him and afterwards brought his body back to Kent by train, where it lay in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Borough Green immediately before the funeral.

On the day of his funeral, Albert’s coffin was draped with a giant Union flag and set on a gun carriage pulled by six horses from Borough Green to Platt with a full military band leading the procession. The local paper estimated that around 2,000 people lined the route, and 400 past and present schoolchildren met the procession outside St Mary’s Church. Albert was buried with full military honours in the churchyard, and following the burial, a firing party comprising 200 members of the Queen’s Own Surrey Regiment fired three volleys over the grave, and the Last Post sounded.

A year after his death, Albert’s parents placed the following poem in the Kent Messenger:

He went marching along,

Sturdy and strong,

To the Band of the 1st Battalion,

And steady and true,

To the Red, White and Blue,

Fell like a hero bold,

At King and country’s command,

He tried to save our land.

Scott Wishart